Donald Tusk: 'Unwise' and 'insulting' for British Govt to compare EU to Soviet Union

Donald Tusk: 'Unwise' and 'insulting' for British Govt to compare EU to Soviet Union
European Council President Donald Tusk, left, and Leo Varadkar arrive before their meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. Photo: AP Photo/Olivier Matthys

European Council president Donald Tusk has launched a furious attack on the British government's claim the EU is acting like the Soviet Union on Brexit, accusing London of making "unwise" and "insulting" comments to stoke up public fears.

Mr Tusk heavily criticised British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt's claim last week insisting Europe is about "freedom and human rights" not "prisons and gulags" - and warning Britain to remember who was first to support it after the Salisbury chemical attacks.

Speaking alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the European Council building in Brussels, Mr Tusk said while "emotional arguments that stress the issue of dignity sound attractive" they will "not lead to anything good".

And in a direct response to Mr Hunt's deeply controversial comments last week, the European Council president - who was jailed for protesting in his native Poland during the Soviet era - said bluntly that the "insulting" comments about the EU went too far.

"You know I always try to present the EU's position honestly and without beating about the bush. Telling truth even if difficult and unpleasant is the best way of showing respect for partners.

"Comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting. The Soviet Union was about prisons and gulags, borders and walls, violence against citizens.

"The European Union is about freedom and human rights, prosperity and peace, life without fear. It is about democracy and pluralism, a continent without internal boarders and wars.

"As the president of the European Council and someone who spent half of my life in the Soviet bloc I know what I'm talking about.

"The Soviet spirit is still alive as demonstrated by the attack in Salisbury.

"You will know best where to look for this spirit - but not in Brussels, which I am sure you will also remember who was the first to declare full solidarity with the UK at that critical moment," Mr Tusk said, adding coldly "it's not my problem" when asked if British prime minister Theresa May should sack Mr Hunt for his remarks.

Meanwhile, in an apparent reference to Mr Hunt's "Soviet" comment, Ms May's claims she was "insulted" by EU leaders in Salzburg last month and DUP leader Arlene Foster's claims she has "blood red lines" on Brexit, Mr Tusk insisted "emotional arguments... will not lead to anything good".

While saying they "sound attractive" and that as a former party leader he is aware of the internal pressures senior politicians are under, he warned "they do not facilitate agreement".

Although stating the EU wants an amicable deal with Britain, Mr Tusk stressed the EU continues to be fully supportive of Ireland's Brexit position.

However, citing ongoing calls from some British officials for a Canada-style Brexit deal that have privately been labelled unreasonable, Mr Tusk said "from the very beginning the EU offer has not been just a Canada deal but a Canada-plus-plus-plus deal" and that the offer "remains in place".

Mr Tusk said "what needs to be done" now is to "maximise progress by the October European Council".

He added that the EU remains united on "the need to preserve the Northern Ireland peace process" and that "despite the UK government’s rejection of the EU’s original backstop proposal, we will not give up seeking a workable solution that fully respects the Good Friday Agreement as the integrity of the single market and the customs union".

Noting the comments of recent days, the European Council president said "unacceptable remarks that raise the temperature will achieve nothing except wasting more time".

He added:

I was a party leader myself for 15 years, and I know what the rules of party politics are. But now when the Tory party conference is over, we should get down to business.

More on this topic

ITV leaders’ debate will exclude views of Remain voters, High Court hearsITV leaders’ debate will exclude views of Remain voters, High Court hears

Boris Johnson pledges tax breaks to businessesBoris Johnson pledges tax breaks to businesses

Boris Johnson says his Brexit deal has backing of ‘all Tory election candidates’Boris Johnson says his Brexit deal has backing of ‘all Tory election candidates’

Brexit Secretary ‘dismayed’ by European Council president Donald TuskBrexit Secretary ‘dismayed’ by European Council president Donald Tusk